New York’s Film Forum recently held a festival of Great Depression era films highlighting Hollywood’s foray into entertainment during the 1930s. Offerings were varied, ranging from Spencer Tracy’s film “Man’s Castle” to Walt Disney’s “The Three Little Pigs.” Not having time to see every screening, I made it a point to catch “My Man Godfrey,” as the 1936 movie is a personal favorite. Carole Lombard and William Powell are magnificent in the madcap comedy.
As I sat in the Houston Street theater, I started thinking about films that might speak to my fellow journalists, many getting slammed by our current economic downturn. The Chicago Tribune announced Monday it will cut 20% of its workforce while the Rocky Mountain News has already shuttered along with a handful of other publications.
Enter Hollywood. Movies, if done right, can be great inspirational tools, or at least a form of escapism in a time of despair. So I’ve come up with a list of five films all journalists should re-visit, as no self-respecting reporter should be ignorant of these classics. Read up and then add them to your Netflix queue.
Warren Beatty’s epic telling of journalist John Reed’s struggle to report on the Russian Revolution is not only riveting for the more than three-hour runtime, but it’s a real-life account of an American hated by his country for sympathizing with Communism. While I can’t see eye-to-eye with Reed when it comes to the Communist Party, for fear of getting put on a list, I can understand his frustration with America when his anti-war stance in 1917 resulted in a lack of employment. As newspapers and media outlets crumble under the pressure of this current economy, journalists should revisit “Reds” and witness the effects a non-existant free press can have on a newsman. Plus, the recent Blu-Ray release is full of great extras.
2. Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
“Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson” is a fascinating look into the life of perhaps the wildest journalist to ever roam the planet. This is a documentary that digs deep into Hunter S. Thompson’s eccentric lifestyle, chronicling his rise and ultimate fall as the original gonzo reporter. Directed by Alex Gibney and narrated by Johnny Depp, the film touches on many aspects of Thompson’s life, ending with his suicide in 2005. This might not be the most inspiring film for a down-on-his luck reporter, but there is no denying that Thompson’s life was legendary. “Hell’s Angels.” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, 1972.” Three top-notch mostly reported books by the often drugged-out-of-his-mind character. With Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter producing, “Gonzo” is a must see.
3. Good Night, and Good Luck
As MSNBC host Keith Olbermann ends his nightly news show with Edward R. Murrow’s famous sign-off, it is worth remembering the original man’s story. George Clooney directed and co-wrote the 2005 film “Good Night, and Good Luck,” highlighting Murrow’s attack on Senator Joseph McCarthy following the red baiting going on in Washington in the 1950s. Despite the sluggish narrative, David Strathairn’s take on Murrow is spot on. Of all the films on the list, this is the inspirational pick. Boldly shot in black and white and full of smokey newsrooms, “Good Night, and Good Luck” reminds of a forgotten news era. A time when reporters freely smoked on camera and Murrow reigned supreme. For added viewing pleasure, I highly recommend checking out “The McCarthy Years,” a documentary showing the real-life story and narrated by Walter Cronkite.
4. L.A. Confidential
Los Angeles in the 1950s was a breeding ground for police corruption and tabloid journalism. Hollywood’s studio system was nearing its end around this time, and the gossip rags were more than happy to flash a bright bulb on the scandalous behavior of stars and starlets. Director Curtis Hanson re-created this lush time period with film noir perfection in the 1997 film “L.A. Confidential,” starring Kim Basinger and a then unknown Russell Crowe. For the journos out there, its Danny DeVito’s sleazy take on tabloid hound Sid Hudgens that spices things up in LaLa land. His gossip was always “Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush.” Beautiful on nearly every level, from the exquisite production values to the gripping screenplay, “L.A. Confidential” is an instant classic, for reporters and general film fans alike.
5. Good Morning Vietnam
“Good Morning Vietnam” holds a special place in my heart, as I was a radio reporter while serving in the U.S. Air Force. And, while training for the job, I had the pleasure of meeting the actual inspiration for Robin Williams’ character, Adrian Cronauer. In the not too distant past, 1965, the war in Vietnam was raging and American forces were fighting a foolish battle while protests raged back home. Sound familiar? Airman Cronauer found himself on the airwaves in Saigon, and when not reading news updates began entertaining the troops with madcap humor and great tunes. The Barry Levinson film showcases Williams at his comic best. “Good Morning Vietnam” rounds out the list of journalism-themed films in hopes of injecting some much needed humor into the dour mood we find ourselves in today.
Editor’s Note: Yes, I realize “All the President’s Men” did not make the list. Why? Anyone that needed a list to tell them the Watergate flick is important need not be reading this blog. I’ve also omitted “Broadcast News” and “Network,” as I didn’t want to create a list full of only obvious choices. Post your favorites in the comments section.
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